This is the secret to maintaining happiness according to psychologists

All reasoned indications suggest an uncomfortable era ahead.

In the wake of an economic-health crisis hybrid, it’s important to find ways to preserve a piece of mind in a country that feels like a tinderbox.  

A new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience elects a multifaceted method of elevating our mood during trying times. Ironically enough, stability is at least co-authored by spontaneity. The authors of the new paper found that individuals who make room for novel experiences daily just as often enrich their moods for the better. 

In ethology, roaming entropy examines the relationship between exploration and brain plasticity  (the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience).

For the sake of the new study, a low entropy day was defined as a day primarily spent at home while a high entropy day denoted traversing a neighborhood and covering new ground.

From the report: 

“Experiential diversity promotes well-being in animal models. Here, using geolocation tracking, experience sampling, and neuroimaging, we found that daily variability in physical location was associated with an increased positive effect in humans. This effect was stronger for individuals who exhibited greater functional coupling of the hippocampus and striatum. These results link diversity in real-world daily experiences to fluctuations in positive affect and identify a hippocampal–striatal circuit associated with this bidirectional relationship.”

Association between real-world experiential diversity and positive affect

“If you’ve had positive experiences in new and uncertain locations, you are probably more likely to think that those new kinds of experiences are opportunities for positive feelings and rewarding experiences,”  the authors continued, 

The researchers arrived at their conclusion after tracking the locations and mood fluctuations of 122 people from New York City and Miami over the course of three to four months. 

Upon further analysis, a through-line between movement patterns and reported emotions appeared. More directly, embarking on new experiences on a daily basis yielded positive dispositions.

When the data were adjusted for relevant socioeconomic factors like employment level, race, and gender in a given area, it was determined that the more novel experiences one undertakes the more positive emotions they subsequently reported.

Additionally, the relationship seemed to be a mutualistic one: Happy people tend to try new things and new things tend to make people happier.  

“We find that if I feel better today, I’m likely to move around and have more novel experiences and have more experiential diversity the following day, and vice versa,” study author, Catherine A Hartley of the Department of Psychology, at New York University, explained. “If I have more novel and diverse experiences today, I’m likely to feel better not only today but the next day.”

There is a neurological basis that supports these finds. Novelty causes our brains to release dopamine, which itself concurrently functions as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. As such, its release causes us to inspect new surroundings for a potential reward while making sure we feel gratified when we discover one. 

“New and varied experiences are broadly beneficial for the brain and for humans in general,” co-author Aaron Heller, a psychologist at the University of Miami,  explained in a media statement.  “Even if you may not tend towards exploring, there are probably benefits to doing so, regardless of your past experiences.”

 CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com